LN: That is actually my favorite sentence in my novel! I have a pivotal character that speaks in word salad much of the time. He is in over his head in many situations and resorts to talking in scrambled sentences and with a loftier tone than the occasion requires. So, my protagonist, Clari Drake, at one point narrates that he is “Sarah Palin with a penis. I could have told anyone that.” I cracked myself up with that one.
BS: Congratulations on the publication of your novel on Amazon Kindle. I found it to be a great read, full of laughs and suspense and compelling characters. You are racking up fabulous Five Star REVIEWS on Amazon with heaps of praise and enthusiasm for your book. It is a very impressive debut for you in the world of fiction. How exciting is this?
LN: You have no idea! Or maybe as a writer and PhD who has published lengthy articles, you do understand. But I am very, very excited to be on Kindle. My book has wide appeal, especially to this blog community.
BS: Let’s talk about Finding Clarity. There is much that reminds me of our own struggle to “out” Sarah Palin over the past 3 years. Am I imagining that?
LN: Not at all. The last three years of work on Finding Clarity dovetailed with my following the blogs and the turmoil surrounding Palin. Coincidently, I had already crafted a plot with these basic themes: you can’t always trust people in power to do the right thing; people are not always who they pretend to be. I also like the idea that life is full of quirky people who sometimes follow false leads and suffer slow starts but are determined to right wrongs and see the truth prevail. That reminds me a lot of our blogging community.
BS: The long title is fascinating: A Mom, A Dwarf and a Posh Private School in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. It’s really what made me want to read the book. But subtitles aren’t common in fiction. How did you decide on that?
LN: This book is about a fish-out-of-water woman, coming of age in her 40’s, who decides to try and become the hot-shot reporter she once was. With a rag tag posse, she sleuths out the wrongs and tries to make them right at her son’s posh private school in Berkeley, where the elite, who in theory aren’t supposed to exist, are up to no good. Those factors are worth teasing on the cover of the book.
BS: Clari Drake suspects that the wealthy power brokers running her son’s little corner of Berkeley are going to destroy the world she loves to hate. Financial malfeasance, dubious hiring choices, ill timed firing of a beloved employee…Clari’s all over it. With her odd, misfit friends, she goes for broke trying to reveal the truth and bust the bad guys. You’re right, this sounds so familiar!
LN: Right on! It truly is as if I wrote a book about me and you and the many commenters here and at the other blogs who have been walking into a head wind for 3 years, digging into documents, listening in on conversations, observing liars and cheats. It’s in my blood to love a story that stinks and want to dig like a dog for a bone until I can figure out the truth. Clari Drake is no different.
BS: A major theme of the book, as you said, is that people aren’t always who they appear to be. And things aren’t always as they seem. Again, it sounds like Palin land to me.
LN: You’re absolutely right. There are so many similarities to what we’ve been doing on these blogs and what goes on in Berkeley in my book. Some people honestly aren’t yet sure who they are in this life, or what they are supposed to be. Others live lies and will do anything to mask the truth. Sarah Palin is a metaphor for all of that.
BS: You’ve spent your career as a journalist – that is, a writer of nonfiction. How difficult was it for you to switch gears and start creating stories instead of reporting them?
LN: It is the antithesis of my training, you’re right. How great it is to be able to make stuff up (much to Mrs. Palin’s chagrin.) There is real freedom to writing fiction. You don’t think the priest would really have said that to Clari? Well, I do. You don’t think the Board of Trustee meeting would have gone quite like that? Hang in there, and see how it all plays out. Unlike in real life, I don’t have to be fair to these characters. I have to breath life into them. There’s a big difference.
BS: But did you like your characters? I found them so loveable and complicated. Even Dick DeNutti, bad guy extraordinaire. Only it gets much more complex than that doesn’t it?
LN: When I finished the final draft, I said to a friend, “Wow, I miss them all.” I had spent so many years with these characters, getting inside their heads, dressing them in their various wardrobes, knowing what they stare at when they are in bed or how they hold their fork. They became real to me and I liked them all. Even the ones I hated!
BS: In real life, we know that people really are composites. No one is any one way all the time. Are these characters representative of people you know? In particular, how much of Clari Drake is you?
LN: The characters are total creations in terms of their personalities and actions. As far as appearances go, one looks a little like an old boyfriend. Elspeth Waldron is fashioned after my 7th grade English teacher who was a state teacher of the year and the most wonderful woman who really encouraged and channeled my energy and abilities. The Goth is drawn from someone I once sat next to on a train. I wanted to create a story for that person. Really, no one is any one person I know. But the science book incident in the beginning? That really happened. I still see her at the grocery store.
BS: And Clari? She’s the star of the show. The super sleuth who goes on to be in other mysteries. Does she remind you of anyone?
LN: Clari and I both passionately love our families. We are devoted mothers, wives, school moms, and volunteers. We hate bullshit and phonies. We seek the truth and want things to be right. And we’ve both made mistakes in our lives. I only wish I had her sass and ability to say what I am really thinking! And we both grapple with trying to accept that we are decidedly mushier, more fragile women than we were as young reporters in our 20s and 30s.
BS: And related to that, how much of the novel is based on stuff that really happened? Is your son, really a dwarf?
LN: No, my son does not have achondroplasia. But I once worked with an editor whose child was a little person. The mother was one of the nastiest woman I’ve ever worked with. A truly disagreeable person. I wanted to re-write that story and make her loving and loveable. I also want to show Zach as a big person in a little body. His beauty shines from the inside out. My son, on the other hand, had serious medical complications inside his body, but looked perfect on the outside. I decided to play those two themes off one another with the understanding that any mother, no matter who she is as a person, suffers tremendously when her child is suffering.
BS: You also touch on all the hot topics of the day: gender, race, and religion. You weren’t afraid to go there.
LN: Gay issues, racial slurs…the horrible things people say and think are all over this book. It is important to me to highlight the ignorance that I see even among the wealthy. Just because people are progressive or elite doesn’t always mean they are always right or proper. Clari sees through them and does her best to undermine their ignorance.
BS: Your characters are so colorful! They jumped off the page. How did you do that?
LN: I saw them so clearly. Sydney is Queen Latifah hands down. Her voice, stature, movements were in my head the entire time I wrote. Same for Dick DeNutti. He’s James Gandolfini. I wrote that part entirely with his voice and mannerisms in mind.
BS: What’s up next for Clari Drake?
LN: Well if her writer could sit still in the chair and keep writing…I have about 100 pages of Murder at the Mailbox already written, and the rest of the story mapped out on a huge board. All the characters are color-coded and the plot is pretty much worked out. Question is, how much of that first draft do I want to keep and how soon can I get to work on it! What time is it anyway?
BS: Again, I’m very excited for you, Clari Drake and all the crazy characters at the Bidwell-Coggin school in Berkeley. I hope everyone here will buy a copy HERE and spread the word to their own social network. Independent authors like you need the word to go viral. And anyone who has enjoyed dissecting the Sarah Palin birth story, will love to see how Clari Drake finds clarity, and hilarity, in Berkeley, the city everyone loves to laugh at.
LN: Thanks so much, Brad, for inviting me to talk about Finding Clarity. I’m so glad you liked the book and laughed out loud. It’s meant to be a fun ride.
BS: And the ending? It blew me away. Never saw it coming. And that alone is worth the price of admission.
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